Just a cold? Just a sniffle? Or is it RSV?

baby boy without hair beating the disease isolated on

Autumn brings us crisp apples, fallen leaves, pumpkin carving – and Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). From late fall through early spring, RSV can gallop through schools, day cares and other places where children and adults gather.

As a matter of fact, most children will contract RSV at some time in their first two years of life. Because there are many kinds of RSV, getting it once doesn’t provide immunity; your child – and you – can get it again and again.

For most people, adults and children included, RSV will present as a cold, with symptoms such as:

  • Runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing

Most RSV infections resolve themselves within a week or two, helped along by typical care for a cold; rest, plenty of fluids, suctioning mucus from the nose, and, with Alzein Pediatric Associates go-ahead, acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Motrin) for fever. You may consider using a cool-mist vaporizer, cleaned daily, to keep mucus from clogging noses and lungs.

Remember – never give your child younger than 20 years old aspirin for a viral infection, as aspirin can cause Reye syndrome, a life-threatening disease. 

However, RSV can be particularly dangerous when it spreads to the lower respiratory tract. There, it will cause pneumonia or bronchiolitis. Call our office immediately if your child, or any family member, shows these symptoms:

  • Mid-grade fever
  • Severe cough
  • High-pitched wheezing when your child exhales, or breathes out
  • Difficulty breathing, especially when lying down
  • Cyanosis – a bluish color in your child’s lips, nostrils, fingertips or toes.

Your infant or toddler is especially at risk of contracting RSV and requiring hospitalization for treatment if:

  • Born prematurely, at or before 29 weeks
  • 6 months or younger in age
  • Younger than 2 years old with heart or lung conditions
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Have difficulty swallowing, coughing or blowing the nose, with neuromuscular disorders

When your child is at greater risk of RSV, your Alzein Pediatrics medical staff can help. Monoclonal antibodies, given in monthly doses for about five months, can halt the virus from multiplying in your child’s body, not actually preventing RSV, but containing the virus to a mild infection.

Call Alzein Pediatric Association immediately, or head to an Urgent Care if your child or family member experiences these symptoms:

  • High fever
  • Chest, belly and skin pull in with each breath; difficulty breathing
  • Has cyanosis
  • Has a persistant cough
  • Refuses food or drink
  • Is unusually tired or fussy

The best way to avoid RSV complications is to prevent the virus in the first place. Like any virus, washing hands frequently and thoroughly (sing “Happy Birthday” slowly as you wash with a mild soap) is the best defense. Keep your child, especially infants younger than 6 months, away from people with cold symptoms. Wash toys daily. Wipe down kitchen and bathroom surfaces often. Don’t share cups or eating utensils, or eat from the same plate of food. Throw away used tissues immediately.

Don’t smoke! Children exposed to smoke are at a higher risk of contracting RSV and of developing more dangerous complications.

Have questions about RSV or think your child may have been exposed to RSV? Call Alzein Pediatric Associates at 708-429-7600. We’ll do all we can to help!